The importance of being alone

Lucas Yeat (R.I.P.) considered this collection of poems his greatest achievement.

What is it that we remember when we think of the poet, years after his passing? Mostly, his unabashed addiction to certain substances, including cheese of random quality.

I know in the right time I will meet Lucas again. We will all meet him again. Forever.


The importance of being alone, by Lucas Yeat, on Amazon (eBook).

Project Compass and the "box" in "sandbox"

In which I react to a micro-incident in Eve Online, eager to share and marvel at a creative endeavor by fellow players.

Worlds beyond the wormholes
In Eve Online, you find your fun in many ways, but the core gameplay is one of many-flavored combat. (Miners don't extract fun from the game; they extract ores.) Stellar systems, for example, are categorized primarily in function of the restrictions to combat. You can fight in known space (empire, low-sec and 0.0) and in something called wormhole space, a wondrous network of mysterious interconnected stellar systems which appeared later in the life of the game.

Combat is supported by other forms of gameplay which provide the elements necessary for a good fight. For example, players can have their characters engineer the production of industrial items, like guns, often using space structures called Control Towers.

And then there is emergent gameplay: methods to fun that CCP, the developers of the game, did not necessarily think about beforehand. Even though they do not directly encourage or condone each of these methods, they strive to provide a favorable context for players to come up with creative ways to enjoy the game, whose most vaunted feature is its focus on sandbox gameplay and player-influenced narrative.

1300 light years from the center of New Eden...
Back to wormhole space: a few roleplayers decided their characters would launch an in-game initiative to research its location using advanced mathematics. Poetic Stanziel explains: "Project Compass' mission statement was to determine the location of w-space (aka Anoikis) with respect to k-space (aka New Eden). And further down the line, to map Anoikis systems with respect to each other." If it still sounds a little bit cryptic, what about this: to simulate the wormhole systems in its software, CCP gave them coordinates somewhere in the same tridimensional virtual world already host to known space. Project Compass used a little-known function of Control Towers to calculate those locations, using those equations. They invested time and in-game money to build a network of Control Towers for this purpose.
Knowing where the wormhole systems are in the virtual world has no in-game consequence, as wormholes are the only way to travel there (you cannot travel directly to another stellar system, much to my chagrin). It does not help in any way to perform better in the game and its in-game acquisition takes a lot of hard work (out of game, the information can actually be found in the public data dump). Its relentless pursuit is thus of the foremost importance and extremely fun.

Well, was actually, because the Crucible 1.5 patch removed this possibility: "Control towers in wormhole space no longer reveal distance in the Control Tower Management window." This change kills Project Compass before it completes its virtual astronomy masterwork. Time to remember that the sandbox is a box!

Project Compass, because it is shared with the community, contributes much more to Eve Online than just the fun of the players involved. Why was this, admittedly extremely niche, method to fun patched out of the game?
I would guess a purely technical reason. CCP has no interest in punishing players finding unlikely fun with minor game mechanisms and playing around the enigmatic quality of wormhole space.
Chances are the developer(s) who championed this change of the rules never heard about Project Compass until the patch went live. If that is so, I hope that, in the future, they manage to squeeze some time in-between two daily scrums to watch the fragile mini-systems of fun that grow like lichens on the most unlikely parts of their game. And when those rare varieties of fun are roleplaying-based, CCP has one simple way to soothe their pain while changing a rule: just maintaining the coherence of the game narrative by providing a background explanation to the change.
Whatever the reason, when players explore the physics of the game, they tread the thin frontier between emergent, exploratory gameplay and the exploitation of game mechanics for combat or griefing. That is why the developers removed the methods to create deep space safes, used by some to park ships in space out of reach of all would-be probers (explorers), or why they prohibited the use of "grid fu" to manipulate the shape of the immediate viewable environment around the ships of player characters.

Someday, some capsuleer will stumble upon bits of code in-game and argue on the in-character forums about the possibility that New Eden is an artificial world.

The discussion is going on in this forum thread and on the Poetic Discourse: Thoughts from a graduate capsuleer blog post.

The content society 4: the future of income


A world without jobs
In The Lights in the Tunnel: Automation, Accelerating Technology and the Economy of the Future (2009), Martin Ford predicts that our society faces systemic mass unemployment within a few decades. He reflects about the necessity to provide people with work-unrelated income in order to preserve the free market, which he deems to be essential.
"In order to preserve the free market system, we will have to come to the realization that while work (at least for most people) may no longer be essential, broad-based consumption is essential."

The economy does not need you
While I disagree on the specifics, I agree with Martin Ford on the general concept of the solution he puts forward.
To me, the free market is not a grail or a beacon in the dark, just one nonexclusive method towards common prosperity. My end goal would rather be to preserve the people's means of living a decent life. Also, I believe that, sadly, the system does not need mass market consumption. When people lose their revenue streams, they get out of the system, which adapts. If everybody loses their job to the machines, the industry will manufacture stuff for the sole remaining customer: the owner of the machines. No, really: on the long term, not only are we all dead but nobody cares. If I sound like I know the future: I don't. But the concepts above need to be said strong and clear because the idea that more "growth" equates with more jobs is still ingrained in many minds. We can wish for more growth, and deal separately with the issue of incomes.

Looking for another way
All people should receive minimum income, enough to survive and never know hunger anymore. Salaries should provide extra revenue and should not be taxed. Actually, the society (or the government, but I want to make a point through the ideological blinders often associated with the word) should pay the salary of everybody, minus an optional, gradually more taxed, premium provided by the company as an incentive to recruit and retain the best personnel. This mass subsidization of the people would be funded with the riches to be found in the system. I do not believe in or long for bloody revolutions. So I want to think about a way to transition to such a system very progressively, iteratively, with opportunities to test if it can function as intended. It might entail, for example, the creation of a parallel, opt-in economic system, with its own money, that could gradually gnaw into the salary-based system. People could belong partially to both systems and, if the alternate system functions, it could grow into the main fabric of the economy. We could also envision multiple economic systems, all vying for the attention and interest of the citizens, until one of them or a combination of them emerges as a stable dominant method for the prosperity of all.


La société du contenu 4 : l'avenir du revenu

Un monde sans emplois
Dans The Lights in the Tunnel: Automation, Accelerating Technology and the Economy of the Future (2009), Martin Ford prédit que notre société s’achemine vers un chômage de masse systémique d’ici quelques décennies. Il réfléchit à propos de la nécessité de fournir aux gens un revenu non lié au travail afin de préserver le libre marché, qu’il juge essentiel.
Afin de préserver le système du libre marché, nous devrons aboutir à la réalisation que bien que le travail (en tout cas pour la plupart des gens) ne soit plus indispensable, la consommation de masse est essentielle.

L’économie peut se passer de vous
Je ne suis pas d’accord sur certains points mais je souscris au concept général de la solution proposée.
Pour moi, le libre marché n’est pas un graal ou un phare dans la nuit, juste une méthode parmi d’autres sur le chemin de la prospérité commune. Mon but final serait plutôt de préserver un niveau de vie décent pour tous. De plus, je ne crois pas, hélas, que le système qui se profile nécessite la moindre consommation de masse. Quand les gens perdent leurs sources de revenu et quittent le système, ce dernier s’adapte. Si les machines prennent le travail de tout le monde, l’industrie se réorientera au service du seul client restant : le propriétaire des machines. C’est ma conviction : à long terme, nous sommes tous morts et il n’y a personne pour nous regretter. J’écris comme si je connaissais le futur, ce n’est pas le cas. Mais les concepts ci-dessus méritent une voix claire et forte tant l’idée que la “croissance” équivaut à la baisse du chômage est ancrée dans encore beaucoup d’esprits. Nous pouvons rechercher la croissance tout en traitant séparément la question des revenus.

A la recherche d’une autre voie
Chacun devrait recevoir un revenu minimum, permettant de survivre sans jamais plus connaître la faim. Les salaires devraient fournir un revenu complémentaire et ne devraient pas être taxés. En fait, la société (ou le gouvernement, mais je veux faire passer un message à travers les oeillères idéologiques associées à ce mot) devrait payer le salaire de tous, à l’exception d’une partie optionnelle et supplémentaire, déboursée par l’entreprise pour attirer et retenir les meilleurs employés, et qui serait elle sujette à un impôt progressif. Des ponctions ailleurs dans le système financeraient ce subventionnement massif de la population. Je ne crois pas aux, ni n'espère de, révolutions sanglantes. Je veux donc réfléchir à une façon de transitionner très progressivement vers un tel système, avec des améliorations successives permettant de vérifier qu’il peut fonctionner comme prévu. Cette méthode pourrait comprendre, par exemple, la création d’un système économique parallèle sur une base volontaire, incluant une monnaie, et qui pourrait petit à petit grossir à l’intérieur du système salarial. Les gens pourraient appartenir aux deux systèmes et, si le système alternatif fonctionne, celui-ci pourrait devenir le fondement de l’économie. Nous pourrions aussi envisager de tester plusieurs systèmes économiques, tous en compétition pour l’attention et l’intérêt des citoyens, jusqu’à ce que l’un d’eux ou une combinaison de plusieurs d’entre eux émerge comme une méthode dominante stable vers la prospérité de tous.

Clone monologues 18

Hello, me.
In the past year, I have mostly dealt with logistics, that is, moving ships and assets from one base of operations to another. The carrier has seen repeated use as the Epsilon Lyr capsuleers have traveled space in their quest for a new stronghold to forge their destiny in. My crewmen, like the true space nomads they have become, barely ever leave their jumpsuits. And today, once again, we are on the move. The morale is high, but this is not the life I wanted. I long to experience another time-dilated space battle in my glorious Abaddon, like the one yesterday.

I might receive more than I asked. When you awaken, pray that your life will be violent, and leave out the short part.

Experiences with space democracy

This post is part of the EVE Blog Banter, a monthly Eve Online blogging extravaganza maintained by Seismic Stan. The polls have just opened for the election of candidates to occupy the 14 seats on the 7th Council of Stellar Management. To kick-start a topical CSM-themed banter, CCP Xhagen - fierce champion of freedom of speech and in his words, "the guy that gets yelled at when the CSM dudes do booboos" - has offered this question: "How would you like to see the CSM grow, both in terms of player interaction and CCP interaction?"

Pay to vote
The Council of Stellar Management (CSM) is a group of players elected by the player-base of Eve Online. It originates with the publisher of the game rather than the community itself, and its main mission seems to be to allow players to contribute meaningful ideas to the development and exploitation of the game beyond the playing itself. CCP, the publisher, seems to believe there should be no taxation without representation, so the right to vote is not given to actual persons but to game accounts: players get as many votes as they have accounts (sometimes two or more). Subscribers, not players or characters, have the right to vote.
One of the main hurdles on the digitization of the real life voting process is indeed the necessary verification of the voters's identity. The set of processes devised by the democracies of the 19th century to ensure transparency in elections does not function so well over the Internet. Unlike what happens in South Korea, where players have to provide their Social Security number before they can play online games, CCP cannot know for sure the identity of the players. They have settled for the next best thing, their database of accounts.

Liquid democracy?
CSM members are representatives, they gather physically to hold meetings, they elect a chairman, etc. This part is very traditional, too much for my taste in fact. This game is a sandbox, a space to explore alternatives and boldly go where no elective process has gone before! Thus, one thing I would like to see is something different. I have an example that I intend only as a starting point. The German Pirate Party has implemented within its ranks a system of direct democracy called "liquid democracy". In a nutshell, the word "liquid" refers here to the way you can delegate your vote on a specific topic to somebody you trust on this issue, and this person can in turn delegate his vote to somebody else, etc., in a flow. Search for it and you will find explanations of the concept, such as in this wiki.

Bring on the science fiction
I am not saying it would be a good idea to implement such a system as is, I am saying that Eve Online is a game, not an actual country, and though hundreds of people depend on it for their livelihood, they can also take much riskier stances and innovate like crazy, and it might just work, thanks to all those brilliant minds in the community and in the company.

Check other Eve Blog Banter articles on the same topic:

Further Resources
CSM Vote-Match (candidate/voter compatibility test)
Jita Park Speakers Corner (discussion forum)
Council Candidates Voting Page The Council of Stellar Management - Implementation of Deliberative, Democratically Elected, Council in EVE by Pétur Jóhannes Óskarsson (CCP Xhagen)

Space captain: real-life corporation wants its name back

The players of the online game Eve Online manage many useful websites and services and one of the most significant is Dotlan. Dotlan provides the community with an efficient interface to exploit the game's public API.
Wollari, who runs the site, mentioned on Twitter that a real life company got in touch with him about an in-game corporation, included in his site's database, which was using their trademark. Wollari directed them to CCP, the publisher of the game.

I have no idea about the specifics. The founder of the in-game corporation could have consciously used the name of an existing company. Or it could be a case of making up a random name without knowing it already exists. In both events, the use of an existing trademark and the reaction of the company are of interest.

I was discussing yesterday with a graphic designer about logos. There are untold numbers of them and making sure the one you create is unique is a logistical nightmare. At least, the aforementioned company has plenty of search engines to identify any issue with its name. The world of pictures is not as easy to search as the world of words. A logo, like a name, is supposed to be unique. But everything has already been made. Words, pictures, guitar riffs... and cool-sounding corporation names. It is OK at some level, but not always, and certainly not for the next thousand years. How to deal with the scarcity of the resource?

This situation is exacerbated by the ubiquitous connection that redefines our society. Back in the days, we could bear the same name and nobody would know about it. Today, a real corporation can search its name on the Internet and take issue with a fictitious corporation using its name in an imaginary science-fiction universe.

Perhaps both words and logos could be assigned more insubstantial qualities. Right now, there are legal ways to ascertain your ownership of a name, but no cloaking device, no way to dampen the "signature radius" of a content on the Internet outside of the website you operate, signalling that "this is just for me and my pals, please leave me alone"; also, there is no invisible guardian angel hovering over your content on the Internet, making sure no one misunderstands what it is connected to. There is only the relentless purge of copies of names for dubious benefit to the society.

DUST 514 to be free-to-play: what next?

CCP announced that their online first-person shooter DUST 514 will be free-to-play. It means that we expect any owner of the supported gaming platform (PlayStation3) to be able to experience the game, at release, in a reasonably enjoyable fashion without having to pay an entry fee. Some players will provide revenue to the publisher by acquiring virtual goods to enhance their gaming experience.
Besides the fact that free-to-play is such an established business model nowadays, with huge hits such as League of Legends and World of Tanks, there are specific reasons why this announcement makes sense. The Eve brand is not known in console gaming circles, despite the buzz that has been growing around the development of DUST 514. CCP needs to diversify its income and there is no easier way to capture the attention outside of its traditional sphere of influence than by giving away the game.
Sony has a disproportionately high stake in this game, since it is both exclusive to their platform and allows them to reach to other gaming communities. If we do not pay the product, I guess we are the product. The competition from Facebook and Apple and who knows what must have Sony desperate to grow their flock and provide a credible alternative. In this world of abundant content, trading the entry fee for future microtransaction revenue makes sense if you are confident in the quality of your game.

Anyway, I am curious to see how the advertised connection between Eve Online and DUST 514 performs and what effect it will have on both gaming communities. Designing it seems like a recipe for headaches.
For Eve, we have one and soon two online games, a few books (my review of The Burning Life), a boardgame (my review), plenty of user generated content... I still think a small game for smartphones would make a nice addition to that.
I hope we can see more meaningful connections like that in the future, within the contexts of the Eve universe and of games in general. I dislike transmedia when its purpose is only to cover all bases.

What next?
There are many other games where I would enjoy this kind of cross-games interaction. For example, month-long play-by-email turn-based strategy games could connect with real time strategy games (for battles) or infiltration games (for espionage), etc. It would make some kind of long gaming continuum. This possible trend might mean some feature-rich games could drop features and those features would become complete games on the most relevant platform. Games might focus on what they do best and connect with complementary games based on previous features. MMOs are very feature-rich so I would not be surprised to see other announcements about games connected to MMOs. (World of Tanks) might provide the combat game for Bioware's Star Wars MMO, for example!
Games might be created from the ground up with this connection in mind, like DUST 514, or they could reach to other games later in their career. The "connection feature" could redefine online games and the market of games.
Or DUST 514 could tank. We'll see!

Playing with the Company 8: Raise the Jolly Roger!

You bloody idiot, you know better than to mix yer liquors!
Kage Baker, The Life of the World to Come

Characters in the Company series have a peculiar look at history. The future depicted in the novels is bland. Past times is where interesting stuff happened: cowboys, Indians, and of course pirates. To truly understand pirates, you need to mix yer liquors. To write about pirates, you need to behave like a bloody idiot. You need, to have a HAT.

Pirates or Ninjas?
The clash of these super-memes is one of the most fundamental oppositions in culture, along with Dionysian vs Apollonian, Elves vs Dwarves, Elephant vs Hippopotamus. Kage Baker definitely sided with the pirates. The yarrr she brought into the world is manifest in one of the main characters in the series. For Alec, every day is Talk Like a Pirate Day. (Sadly, one of his twin brothers leans more on the ninja side.) Do you want to play the part of the good little boy, or do you want to be the rebel? Alec tries to be both, but his heart is true to the Jolly Roger.

Pirates have history.
This is not the first stage in life. You become a pirate, you are not born one. And escaping the rule of law, embracing freedom, is a conscious choice; nobody is forced into the pirate life. In a game based on the Company series, I would like to see players questioning rules and choosing to rebel. What would those pirates face? A totalitarian machine based on the most comprehensive surveillance system ever devised.

The decision to raise the Jolly Roger should come from the players; it should not even be introduced as a viable option. If players feel like using the good boy system, let them do it. And if they don't behave, let them be pirates.

Just send ninjas.

Eve Online has shards

The single most vaunted feature of Eve Online, along with the focus on sandbox gameplay, has to be its single shard universe. All players are able to interact with each other in the context of the game. The single shard leverages the full potential of the community.

This is a marketing lie. Another shard of Eve Online has existed for years in China. My understanding is that this quasi-clone of the original version was created to comply with Chinese rules. Some of these rules are about the nature of content, e.g., the possibility to destroy a capsule ("podding") has been removed. Other rules are about capital ownership. CCP just announced a new partnership with TianCity to publish Eve Online in China. I thought this press release would be a good occasion to reflect about the Chinese shard.

Right now, the Chinese players explore a world that is but a copy of the one explored by the global players. They cannot interact with other players. In my opinion, being exclusive in such a way betrays the ethos of Eve Online. This is obviously a business compromise, but the role of content creators is to accommodate business and technical impediments.

What would have made sense, if the law compels CCP to prevent Chinese customers to interact with non-Chinese, would have been having the Chinese customers play in a different part of the game universe. Trouble is, this will not happen. The background is intricately burrowed into the game system as in, a massive quantity of game objects are not background-neutral. Ships are obviously the result of the industry of specific civilizations. The same for Captain's Quarters, faces, plenty of skills, etc. A whole new series of stars and planets would have to be generated and named. The expansions have been built around a peculiar narrative, etc.

But still, it bugs me. I need to rationalize this other shard because, in the back of my mind, I still hope that at some point a grand unification of the Eve universe will happen.

Then again, maybe an entirely different set of human empires is located on the other side of the Jovian empire. The Joves are not talking, but have been feeding these empires with technology originating from Dodixie and Amarr. Or it could be a case of the parallel universes.

In the future, I hope this situation gets solved. Perhaps TianCity will go beyond publishing a clone. To keep with the spirit of Eve Online, they ought to make sure that their customers can explore a world that is truly theirs and not a carbon copy of the first one, minus some stuff that the Chinese government dislikes. This way, the fantasy that there is only one instance of the Eve cluster will be maintained.